The Demythologizing Business Coordonator ştiinţific Conf. Univ. Dr. Eduard Vlad Absolvent CONSTANA 2010 CONTENTS Introduction
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In an interview by Anna Katsavos, Angela Carter explains why she conducts this “demythologizing business”:Well, I’m basically trying to find out what certain configurations of imagery in our society, in our culture, really stand for, what they mean, underneath the kind of semi religious coating that makes people not particularly want to interfere with them.” The reason for which I have chosen to deal with Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus and The Bloody Chamber is that
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Angela Carter:The Demythologizing BusinessCoordonator ştiinţific Conf. Univ. Dr. Eduard Vlad Absolvent
CONSTANŢAIUNIE 2010CONTENTSIntroduction ..............................................................................1Chapter I..................................................................................8FAIRY TALES GONE WILD: ANGELA CARTER’S REWRITING OF THEFAIRY TALEChapter II.................................................................................20UNDERMINING PATRIARCHYChapter III..............................................................................31BEHOLD! THE NEW WOMAN HAS HATCHED!Conclusion...............................................................................42Bibliography............................................................................48
Introduction In the tumultuous cultural context of the 20th century, one of the women writers whosought to recreate the distorted image of women living in patriarchal societies and tohighlight their qualities and strengths was Angela Carter (1940-1992). She was a very prolificand chameleonic feminist writer and, from the multitude of her literary works, I have chosento discuss two of her most significant works, the novel Nights at the Circus and the short-story collection The Bloody Chamber;after taking into account their most noteworthy traits, Ihave chosen the title Angela Carter: The Demythologizing Business for my dissertationpaper.Very few readers would consider Angela Carter a very successful business person; I,for one, wouldn’t. Nonetheless, what does she really imply when she states that she is into the“demythologizing business”? To begin with, the term “to demythologize” incurs the
elimination of the mythical aspects from a piece of writing and the desired purpose is to reacha new and improved meaning. Angela Carter refreshes characters from mythology andfolklore and gives them another personality, analyzes them from a feminist perspective. In aninterview by Anna Katsavos, Angela Carter explains why she conducts this “demythologizingbusiness”: Well, I’m basically trying to find out what certain configurations of imagery inour society, in our culture, really stand for, what they mean, underneath the kind of semireligious coating that makes people not particularly want to interfere with them.”1The reason for which I have chosen to deal with Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circusand The Bloody Chamber is that I have always been fascinated by the ways I which fairytales have been embraced by all the cultures over the centuries; I was also interested in theway in which their morals have been passed on from generation to generation and their truthvalue has never been questioned. Moreover, I was amazed by Angela Carter’s talent torewrite these adored fairy tales and I wanted to find out how these rewritten tales are capableof conveying a new message by means of the dramatically revised characters’ voices. Angela Carter’s readers are, at first, baffled by her style of writing and of recreatingcharacters from classical tales because she fully exploits her vivid imagination so as to beable to transmit her desired message. Not only does she recreate well-known protagonistsfrom folklore tales, but she also places them in highly uncanny situations, thus confusing heravid readers. Throughout the three chapters of my dissertation paper I wanted to find out thereason why Angela Carter uses powerful and shocking images, outlandish characters and theunexpected relationships that occur between them all located in carnivalesque sceneries.Moreover, I needed to draw a conclusion in respect to the coda of these works, as well as towhich regards the purpose of the new roles assumed by the characters. In order to achieve mygoal, I used several approaches, among which a feminist, a sociological and a structuralistapproach by means of which I managed to explain the manner in which the works’ messagescan be easily understood if outrageous and controversial images are employed.The first chapter, entitled Fairy tales gone wild: Angela Carter’s rewriting of thefairy tales, deals with the ways in which intertextuality is used in the process ofdeconstructing the fairy tales, the female characters and the male protagonists, therepresentatives of patriarchy. Moreover, I analyzed the significance of the new situations and1 Anna Katsavos, “An Interview with Angela Carter”.The Review of Contemporary Fiction. 22 September 1994 <http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-15906129.html>
characters that assume totally different roles than those in the fairy tales. The influence ofJulia Kristeva is obvious in Carter’s works as she applied Kristeva’s theory of intertextuality,thoroughly explained in The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism:The concept of intertextuality derived from the poststructuralist claim that signifiers referalways and only to other signifiers: that language can be transformed, translated, transferred,but never transcended. Words gain their meaning not by referring to some object present tothe mind of the language user but from the never ending play of signification. To use theword 'love' is not to refer to some extra-linguistic biological or psychological object but,consciously or unconsciously, to join in a conversation that takes in the lays of theTroubadours, Shakespearean tragedy, romantic lyrics and the songs of the Beatles. 2Starting from this definition, I used a structuralist approachand compared and contrasted theten short stories from The Bloody Chamber with fairy tales such as Snow White, The Sleeping Beauty,The Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, Bluebeard, and Puss in Boots, collected by CharlesPerrault, the Brothers Grimm, or by Simone de Beauvoir. Characters from folklore such as the erl-king or Dracula were also analyzed by being compared with the original stories. Additionally, takinginto consideration the fact that I encountered many allusions to myths and tales from the folklore, Ialso paid attention to the deconstructed characters from the novel Nights at the Circus. I used thesame technique when I investigated the circumstances under which the characters from the novelembody mythical figures such as Cupid, Nike, Biblical characters such as the angel of death and eventhe protagonists from the fairy tales The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Cinderella, The Ugly Ducking,Thumbelina and The Sleeping Beauty.taking into account the cultural period in which Angela Cartewrote, I also considered the way in which she uses Derrida’s theory about deconstruction and aboutthe binary oppositions. Just like Derrida, Angela Carter stresses on the second constituent, consideringit more important and, by choosing to do so, she reverses the entire plot. To which regards the theoryabout difference, Derrida explains that the text knows no boundaries and that this leads to a myriad ofinterpretations. The concept of difference is explained in Abrams’sA Glossary of Literary Termsand it is easily noticeable that Angela Carter took this theory into consideration when creatingher works:a text proffers the "effect" of having a significance that is the product of its difference, butthat on the other hand, since this proffered significance can never come to rest in an actual"presence"—or in a language-independent reality Derrida calls a transcendental signified—2 Stuart Sim, The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism (London: Routledge, 2001) 285.
its determinate specification is deferred from one linguistic interpretation to another in amovement or "play,” as Derrida puts it, en abîme—that is, in an endless regress.3The second chapter, Transgressing patriarchy, focuses exclusively on the short storycollection The Bloody Chamber and my major aim is to observe the feminist attitude towardspatriarchal patterns and procedures by means of which patriarchy is undermined. AngelaCarter’s collection of short stories reflects the influences of the feminist movements,especially the influences of the most important precursors, Simone de Beauvoir and HélèneCixous. Both Simone de Beauvoir and Hélène Cixous criticize patriarchal cultures, analyzethe women’s position in the patriarchal hierarchy and try to gain women a new and well-deserved place in this hierarchy. Beauvoir’s criticism about the woman as an object, as theother materializes in Carter’s stories, as their main focus lies in the analysis of the women’smarginal position in patriarchal societies and their regaining of their rights to which they areentitled. After analyzing in the first chapter the similarities and dissimilarities between theoriginal plot of the fairy tales and the distorted one of Angela Carter’s stories, I tried to makean in-depth sociological analysis of the manner in which Angela Carter uses gender role androle reversal so as to criticize patriarchal societies and the rules imposed by them. I focusedmainly on the stories The Lady of the House of Love, The Bloody Chamber, The Tiger’sBride, The Courtship of Mr Lyon, and on the three wolf-stories The Werewolf, Wolf-Alice andThe Company of Wolves. In the second chapter I also tried to find similarities anddissimilarities between the original tales and those rewritten by Angela Carter; nevertheless, Ifocused on the difference between reality and appearance, between what is expected and whatis presented, and the manner in which this difference can be helpful in the process of therestructuring of a patriarchal society and even the destruction of it.The second chapter illustrates the various types of women who are regarded as weak,as victims and can be manipulated easily. Nonetheless, Angela Carter uses her secret weapon,her imagination and her will to reestablish the correct order in the patriarchal societies. Ianalyzed the ways in which she educates her readers, either women or men, and I tried to findout how can she destroy preconceived beliefs so deeply rooted in everyone’s minds and soulsand manages to reeducate them and determines them to reorganize their ways of thinking.Angela Carter finds her own innovative way to deconstruct powerful images of men undertheir various stances: man as a father, as a lover or as a hero. Will the father in Angela Carter3 M. H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms. Seventh Edition (U.S: Heinle&Heinle, 1999) 57.
be as powerful and authoritative as that in fairy tales? How does he differ from the images ofthe father illustrated in the folklore tales? Does the lover dominate the woman or is he sodependent on her presence that he accepts an equal relationship? These are the questions Iasked when reading Carter’s stories and I also tried to find a pertinent answer to them in thesecond chapter of my dissertation.In the third chapter, Behold! The New Woman has hatched!, I concentrated on thenovel Nights at the Circus and I used a feminist approach, meaning that I sought a way toconnect the reinterpretations of myths and fairy tales with the feminist opinions about thewomen’s rights and their deserved position in a culture in which men are seen as the mostpowerful members. The rights for which feminists from the three waves of the feministmovement resonate in this novel which constructs a new prototype of woman, imposes newrules that should be followed by all the emancipated women. Although The Bloody Chamberincludes feminist views on women, this novel combines almost all the feminist opinions andtheories and illustrates them by means of well-built and highly complex characters involvedin a myriad of outrageous situations. Although the influence of Cixous and Simone deBeauvoir are clear in this novel, Virginia Woolf’s influence is also easily noticeable,especially when it comes to women’s right ot privacy, to a place of their own. This opinion isillustrated in Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and, in the opinion of Robert Con Davis andRonald Schleifer, this room that every woman must have is a “domain that allows womenboth privacy and (economic) freedom, simultaneously incorporates the interiority of femalediscourse and the social sanctuary within which a woman may develop strength.”4Angela Carter abuses her imagination yet again by means of her novel and shemanages to create original and controversial characters that challenge the boundaries betweenfact and fiction, essence and appearance, desire and pathology. Traditional patterns attributedto women are replaced by anti-feminine models of femininity such as Fevvers and othercharacters that stray from the general rule of attractiveness; nonetheless, this does not meanthat they cannot excel in other fields, more or less proper for a woman. The main question Iwanted to answer is “What happens when women refuse to fit in the beauty pattern imposedby society?”Starting from this question, I analyzed the female characters that revolt againstthe patriarchal communities in which they live and exceed in designing their own livesgoverned by the laws established according to their personal desires. 4 Robert Con Davis and Ronald Scheifer, Contemporary Literary Criticism. Literary and Cultural Studies (New York: Longman, 1994) 509.
Although I commented on the changes experienced by almost all the femalecharacters, I have shown a particular interest in the most prominent character from the novel,Fevvers. This protagonist, whose attitude is larger than life, is exceptional in so many ways. Itried to find an explanation for her extraordinary birth as well as for her unusual physicaltraits, for she is a winged aerialist. She has a unique personality and a revolutionary way ofrelating to the other characters. Her assets, her personality and her free manner of thinkingwill entitle her to the role of a female savior. The other characters will experienceuncountable changes, all of which will be owed to the main protagonist, Fevvers.As I analyzed the relationships between the characters, I could not avoid discussinganother significant subject, which is love. Expectedly, this novel does not treat love as asimple relation between a man and a woman and, following the third wave feminists’ fightfor the right to homosexual love, introduces new relationships built on trust and respectbetween characters of the same sex. The narrator plays with gender role, role reversal and,little by little, destroys every common belief about love, women and traditional relationships.Apart from the main female protagonist, the focus of this chapter lies on the malecharacter as well. In the beginning of the novel the reader will meet Walser, who fullyembodies the personality and characteristics of the domineering and highly rationalpatriarchy. He will be the only one who will question Fevvers truthfulness and, driven by thedesire to uncover her presupposed lie, he will follow her everywhere. However, as expectedin Angela Carter’s feminist writings, there will be a dramatic twist that will change thisprotagonist entirely.By means of this dissertation I want to be able to draw a relevant conclusion and findthe necessary answers to important questions with respect to Angela Carter’s controversialwriting and to her rewriting of the classical fairy tales as well as the deconstruction of thecharacters that inhabit the tales that have been taken for granted by so many patriarchalcivilizations across the world. I want to discover the new coda imposed by these rewrittentales and myths and how it can be easily perceived by means of out of the ordinary charactersstruggling to make themselves heard in an unfair society.
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